Lovie Smith has won far more games than he’s lost as the head coach of the Chicago Bears. And he’s won far more games that his two post-Ditka predecessors did on the Lakefront. Dave Wannstedt was 40-56 in the regular season, 1-1 in the postseason. Dick Jauron was 35-45 in the regular season, 0-1 in the postseason. Lovie is 79-62 in the regular season, 3-3 in the postseason. Irrefutable point: Lovie Smith has been a consistent, winning head coach in the NFL.
Many fans, and employees at both our brilliant (sarcasm) daily newspapers, want Lovie fired as a symbolic gesture to those clamoring for more than above-average success. They want an announcement from Halas Hall stating, “8-8, 9-7 and a division title every couple years is not enough! These are the Chicago Bears!” (This is a statement that makes no sense in the Super Bowl era as those records and the occasional division title has been exactly what the Chicago Bears are.)
Who do they want Smith replaced with? This is a far trickier predicament for the blood thirsty. Those dying for a Chicago Bears Super Bowl crown often point their attention to former Super Bowl champions like Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden, ignoring one of the more glaring and obvious facts in football history: no coach has ever won a Super Bowl with two different teams. The savvier will begin targeting successful college coaches (David Shaw) and hot coordinator candidates (Jay Gruden) from across the landscape of the NFL, even though success on either end can not be described as anything other than a crap shoot. Some just want a different human being on the sideline and they don’t much care who. This was the prevailing sentiment surrounding the firing of GM Jerry Angelo.
What is the difference between a winning team and a championship team? Let’s compare two of the banner franchises of the modern NFL.
The New England Patriots won three Super Bowl titles between 2001 and 2004. Since that year the Pats have been one of the most remarkable regular season teams in the history of pro sports. Records: 10-6, 12-4, 16-0, 11-5, 10-6, 14-2, 13-3 and currently 10-3. In that period of time they have won 7 playoff games. They have not won a championship.
The New York Giants, since Tom Coughlin’s arrival in 2004, are 82-59 in the regular season. Six games better than Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears over the same period of time. They have won 8 playoff games en route to two Super Bowl titles. Outside of those two Super Bowl campaigns the Giants have not won a single playoff game during the Coughlin era.
What Couglin’s Giants have proven is you just have to make the tournament. Regardless of seed or regular season play, you just have to arrive at the dance to meet your potential mate. What Belichick’s Patriots have proven is making the tournament every single season is no guarantee of glory. If Belichick had begun his coaching career in 2005, I wonder if the Boston media would not be calling for his ouster as a result of “failure to reach the Promised Land”. And why haven’t they reached the Promised Land? Because David Tyree caught one of the most ridiculous passes in NFL history and Wes Welker dropped a ball he’d catch 99 out of 100 times. That’s what the NFL comes down to. A play or two.
Lovie Smith’s defenses have had their down moments (cough, 2009, cough) but have never been the primary issue facing the Bears. One could easily argue that 75% of his Bears defenses were more than capable of winning the Super Bowl.
Lovie Smith’s offenses have been something of a disaster for three reasons. (1) Until the arrival of Jay Cutler, Lovie never had a quarterback. And even the first year or so of Cutler was shaky. (2) Lovie’s offensive coordinator choices have never been able to consistently balance the coach’s expectations of a run-first approach with the league’s clear favoring of a pass-first attack. (3) Outside of a free agent-based collection of veterans in 2005-2006, Jerry Angelo struggled mightily to find guys who can block.
So what’s the point? The point is any fan or writer who calls – prematurely or otherwise – for the ousting of Lovie Smith should recognize a few things. (1) They would not be doing so if Major Wright intercepted Russell Wilson’s errant pass late against the Seattle Seahawks. (2) They would not be doing so if Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester caught their respective touchdown passes against the Minnesota Vikings. These are basic facts because these three plays would have resulted in victories, moved the Bears to 10-3, guaranteed thems a 2012 playoff position and changed the discourse from replacing Smith to extending him. That is the difference between winning and losing in the current NFL and this is the difference between a coach being heralded or berated by their respective fans.
Lovie Smith is a good head coach. You’re not 17 games over .500 with a crop of Jerry Angelo players unless you’re a good head coach. If the argument was Angelo could not find talent and Lovie won with the lack of talent found, doesn’t that mean Lovie is a good head coach?
Can the Bears win a championship with Lovie Smith as their head coach? If Phil Emery believes the answer is “no” he will show Lovie the door should the Bears fail to make the 2012 postseason and bring in his own man. Personally, I don’t see how a coach who has BEEN to the Super Bowl would be incapable of WINNING a Super Bowl. He got there by beating two Super Bowl winning coaches. He got there with Rex Grossman, currently third string behind two rookies in Washington, playing quarterback.
I’m pulling for the Bears to beat the Packers Sunday at Soldier Field Sunday not only because I have pulled for the Bears every Sunday of my entire life. I am pulling for the Bears Sunday because I’m pulling for Lovie Smith. The Bears will have a better chance to win a title over the next three seasons if he’s the head coach.